In one night three of them died when they took a short cut across the B.U.
railroad trestle and got caught in the middle by an oncoming freight train.
Then there was the night five people were trapped by an electrical fire caused
by the extension cord they ran into their derelict trailer on the edge of Southie.
The firemen said they could hear them banging on the walls but
could not break through to help them escape the smoke and flames.
I knew both the guys who went off the Longfellow Bridge in one night
to be found floating around on the bottom of the Charles close to the boating club.
One of them was in my poetry group and I kept having to explain to one of the guys
that they both jumped and it wasn’t a murder (although one may have been a suicide
and the other failed rescue attempt).
So then, naturally, two staff members died in one bright sunny afternoon
when one of the nurses, a nun actually, fell over the cliff at Marlborough
and broke her leg on a ledge below and when her friend and fellow worker
went down to help her they both got swept off by a great wave and drowned
in the cold surf right in front of the EMT’s who had come to save them.
So who could blame all those individuals for dying off every year in company-size units
when it was so much easier to slip beneath the surface, fall off the edge, lay down in the wrong place,
choke on the stew, keel over cardiac arrest, get caught by the gang under the bridge, catch a shive
between the ribs, a brick upside the head, a fall in front of the bus, a truck tire rolling over the face,
or just finally going to sleep so tired, so beaten in the numb of the wretched bitter cold.
James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. His work appears weekly in Oddball Magazine.